rss twitter facebook mobile

BALLBAGS – Manchester United’s “luck of the draw” in domestic cup competitions

When David Moyes hit out at the Premier League a couple of weeks ago, suggesting a “conspiracy against United” in terms of our opening run of fixtures in the new campaign (I think we all know that run now: Swansea, Chelsea, Liverpool, Palace, City), he may have been continuing a fine tradition of controlled paranoia which Fergie used to use as a tool for constructing that famous Old Trafford siege mentality. But Moyes might have been better served keeping his powder dry for a complaint about our draws in the domestic cup competitions.

On the league fixtures, Moyesy contended that the Premier League might have wanted to make it a little harder for United this year, following the ease by which we won the competition last term. He said: “I find it hard to believe that’s the way the balls came out of the bag, that’s for sure.”

It’s even more difficult to believe our “luck of the draw” in the cups though, and prior to the draw for the League Cup being made last night it was absolutely predictable that the Reds would pull one of the Big Five (or is it Big Six now?) Weight of history told us we’d get Chelsea, or city. Statistics, pure mathematics decreed that we’d get Arsenal, or Spurs. Or Liverpool, as it turned out.

No right-thinking United supporter was surprised. Yet the neutral fan and for the ABU, there is a willful blind-spot as far as United’s rotten run of luck in terms of domestic cup draws is concerned. They still spout the myth of United and our easy draws, which has, to be fair, been in evidence in some of our European draws. But at home? No way. Those ballbags have been far from kind to us, and have surely helped contribute to the fact that this year marks a decade since we won the FA Cup (in the decade before that we won it four times).

So are the draws manufactured in order to ensure United don’t keep winning the competition? Probably not, but it will be interesting to see whether Chelsea, who in the last decade have made the FA Cup their own – well, they need to, others win leagues – begin to get more difficult draws soon.

Anyway, like Kurt Cobain used to say, just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you. So here’s how those draws have been “after us” over the past few years.

2013-14 League Cup
Liverpool (Premier) H

2012-13 League Cup
Newcastle Utd (Premier League) H
Chelsea (Premier) A

2012-13 FA Cup
West Ham (Premier) A
Fulham (Premier) H
Reading (Premier) H
Chelsea (Premier) H

Last season we drew no opposition outside the Premier League in six draws in two competitions (and we’d in fact already been drawn against Manchester city in the FA Cup semi-final before we were knocked out in a quarter-final replay against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, making it SEVEN draws against Premier League opponents on the trot.)

2011-12 League Cup​
Leeds Utd (Championship)​A
Aldershot (League Two)​A
Crystal Palace (Championship) H

2011-12 FA Cup
Man city (Premier) A
Liverpool (Premier) A

Okay, so we drew Leeds of the Championship in our opening round of the League Cup, but come on. We drew them away and they regard us as their greatest rivals. This wasn’t – no disrespect intended, your Yeovil or your Bristol City or your Barnsley). And we drew League Two’s Aldershot in the next round too before losing to the Championship’s Zaha-inspired Crystal Palace in the Quarters, but our draws in the FA Cup more than made up for these aberrations. First we pulled the noisy neighbours city, away. Then, after dispatching them, we were rewarded with a tie against our even more bitter rivals, Liverpool. Again away from home. Two harder games you could not envision. And in total that season, we had five draws, and four of them were away from home.

2010-11 League Cup​
Scunthorpe Utd (Championship) A​
Wolves (Premier) H​
West Ham (Premier) A​

2010-11 FA Cup
Liverpool (Premier) H
Southampton (League 1) A
Crawley (Conference) H
Arsenal (Premier) H
Man city (Premier) N

In 2010-11 United actually drew three sides from outside the Premier League, however our ties against Premier League opposition still outweighed them, and our run to the FA Cup semi-finals included matches against three of our biggest rivals in Liverpool, city, and Arsenal. We only missed out on Chelsea!

2009-10 League Cup​
Wolves (Premier) H​
Barnsley (Championship) A
Spurs (Premier) H
Man city (Premier) H & A
Aston Villa (Premier) N

2009-10 FA Cup
Ahem… Leeds (League 1) H

A more varied bag of draws here, however in our run to lifting the League Cup, we only drew one side outside the Premier League… Perhaps that was a good job though as we showed our worst display in many a season when a lacklustre United fell at the first hurdle in the FA Cup to bloody Leeds of all teams.

2008-09 League Cup​
Middlesbrough (Premier) H​
QPR (Championship) H​
Blackburn (Premier) H​
Derby County (Championship) A & H​
Spurs (Premier) N​

2008-09 FA Cup
So’ton (Championship) A
Spurs (Premier) H
Derby (Championship) H
Fulham (Premier) H
Everton (Premier) H

Another even-looking season of draws, however if you look closely at the League Cup draw, we see that this is, including Liverpool this season, this makes it four out of six ties against Premier League opposition.

2007-08 League Cup​
Coventry City (Championship) H​

2007-08 FA Cup
Aston Villa (Premier) A
Spurs (Premier) H
Arsenal (Premier) H
Portsmouth (Premier) H

An embarrassing home defeat to Coventry notwithstanding, this is another season which might have the more paranoid amongst us twitching uncomfortably. A full set of Premier opponents in the FA Cup, including both North London sides relatively early in the competition…

League Cup​
Crewe (League 1) A​
Southend (Championship) A​

2006-07 FA Cup​
Aston Villa (Premier) H
Portsmouth (Premier) H
Reading (Premier) H
Middlesbrough (Premier) A
Watford (Premier) N
Chelsea (Premier) N

Another FA Cup season full to bursting with matches against Premier League sides. Another League Cup season not to write home about.

2005-06 League Cup​
Barnet (League 2) H​
West Brom (Premier) H​
Birmingham City (Premier) A​
Blackburn (Premier) A & H​
Wigan (Premier) N

2005-06 FA Cup
Burton (Conference) A
Wolves (Championship) A
Liverpool (Premier) A

United manage to get through two draws in the FA Cup without being matched with Premier League rivals, however then we pull Liverpool. Including this season’s League Cup, this is the fourth time we have drawn the Scousers in the early rounds of competition in nine seasons.

2004-05 League Cup​
Crewe (Championship) A​
Crystal Palace (Premier) H​
Arsenal (Premier) H​
Chelsea (Premier) A & H​

2004-05 FA Cup
Exeter (Conference) H
Middlesbrough (Premier) H
Everton (Premier) A
Southampton (Premier) A
Newcastle (Premier) N
Arsenal (Premier) N

Those Exeter and Crewe draws aside, another full bag of Premier League opponents in these games. Indeed, after United drew consecutive non-league sides – Exeter and Burton – in 04-05 and 05-06 respectively, it was almost as though the draws were trying to over-compensate…

2003-04 League Cup​
Leeds (Premier) A ​
West Brom (Championship) A​

2003-04 FA Cup
Aston Villa (Premier) A
Northampton (League 2) A
Man city (Premier) H
Fulham (Premier) H
Arsenal (Premier) N
Millwall (Championship) N

Another Premier League side in United’s opening rounds of both competitions.

In 2002-03, United drew Premier League West Ham in the third round, followed by top-tier Arsenal in the fourth round. In 2001-02, United drew Arsenal again, this time in the opening round of the League Cup, and achieved the double-whammy by drawing Premier League opponents in the FA Cup too, in Aston Villa. 2000-01 was kinder, seeing us draw Championship opposition in the opening rounds of both competitions. But in 1999-2000 the balls were at it again, pairing United with Premier League Aston Villa in the first round we could enter of the League Cup.

That was the year, of course, that Manchester United DEVALUED the FA Cup, by withdrawing from the tournament in order to participate in the Club World Championships in Brazil, following our Champions League victory in Barcelona. The fact that SINCE then, we’ve been pretty much mauled by the balls, is surely no coincidence.​

Conclusions – Obviously, you have to expect to draw more Premier League opposition as each competition progresses, which means that our total number of Premier League opponents in both competitions is obviously weighted.

However the sheer number of first round draws against top tier opposition is staggering. In the FA Cup, we have drawn Premier League opponents in the past three seasons, and in 8 of the past 13 seasons. There are 64 teams in the third round of the FA Cup, of which 30% are from the Premier League, and yet those balls keep working against us.

Our figures for the fourth round FA Cup draws are even more stark. In this round there remain a number of lower league sides for us to pull, however in 6 of the past 8 seasons United have reached this stage, they have met Premier League opposition.

In order to put this into perspective, last year’s FA Cup finalists Manchester city have drawn the Championship’s Watford, Leicester, Middlesbrough, and Notts Forest in the past four third rounds and Chelsea, who (coincidentally?) have the best record in the cup competitions during this time have drawn given-up-before-it-kicked-off’s Southampton (they won 5-1), bankruptcy’s Portsmouth (4-0), can’t be bothered’s Ipswich (who they trounced 7-0), Watford (who they bullied to 5-0), and Southend (who the Stamford Bridge club needed a replay to dispatch).

Even Liverpool have had it easier, sneaking past minnows Mansfield last year with a sneaky Suarez handball. The year before that they faced struggling Oldham, but the year before that an early Berbatov penalty knocked them out at OT in King Kenny’s famous(!) return to the Merseyside club. A year before that the Championship’s Reading saw them off 2-1.

Indeed, the only time any of our rivals ever seem to draw a Premier League club in the early rounds of either competition, you can pretty much guarantee that Premier League club will be us.

Paranoid, yes?

But are those balls wonky, or weighted? For sure.

The song goes we’re Man United, we do what we want, but much as these ties against rival Premier League opponents are mouth-watering, and much as we like to believe we are confident going into them – we’re not arrogant, just better – surely what we really want now is to reach another FA Cup final. It’s been beards.

These continually poor draws are getting right in the bloody way. And they are doing nothing for our early season nerves. Moyes – time for another complaint!



  1. The Hound says:

    That’s exactly what Celtic would have wanted. 3 European giants coming to Park Head. Beats watching Celtic play Inverness and Dundee every week.

  2. Andromeda says:

    Lucky Chelski as always!!!

  3. samuel - united WE stand says:

    They sold their players, what? Don’t they have history of making names for players? I expect shakthar with their brand of attacking football can’t be underestimated.

  4. Sushi says:

    Chelsea get the joke draw and the ABU cunts have the balls to say we got the easiest group…..

  5. Dela says:

    To be fair we avoided the likes ot Juventus, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund (albeit they are weaker now) etc. I won’t complain about that group. Chelsea will walk out of their group too… Arsenal have absolutely nothing assured given their inconsistency lately. City.. well, they won’t top that group so it’s up to CSKA to deny them.

  6. Cool Goat HOT POTATOE! says:

    Wee Tom
    Nah not at all. It doesnt mean I side with Rangers just find both of those two clubs despotic and a blight on Scottish football. Im a huge fan of Scotland but hate what those two arsehats of clubs have done. Taken all the riches out of the game and handed all the glory to biggots, racists, micks and autistics.
    Aberdeen man all the way, not because of Sir Alex but because my uncle worked on the rigs flying from Aberdeen and house there.

  7. Wee Toms Ligaments says:

    Ronaldo – “Fuck you UEFA”

    UEFA – “Love you Messi”

  8. matt says:


    Milan was fucking useless last season, Ajax aren’t particularly strong. I would have rather have got Milan than Shakhtar and Ajax over Leverkusen.

  9. Mav says:

    I’m glad Ronaldo fucked off this ceremony. Hope he doesn’t attend WOrld Player of the Year either because we all know Messi will win that shit again

  10. greenhoff77 says:

    its a great draw, dunno about the trip to the Ukraine. Arsenal out in the group stages along with the Bluenoses again.

  11. samuel - united WE stand says:

    Matt – milan can’t be overlooked. They have creative players with the unpredictable mario balotelli. Italians are always there or there abouts in trying to win the tournament, think they’ll finish 2nd.

  12. midfield-man says:

    Arsenal are fucked.

  13. Proverb says:

    Yepee!! see a Kind draw…… For a cHANGE

    Gill ya biscuits you!

  14. matt says:


    Yeah, I never want us to underestimate any team. But Milan has been in decline for the last 2 years. I don’t think they are that strong, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ajax pipped them to 2nd. I would have rathered Milan and Ajax to Shakhtar and Leverkusen.

  15. Sushi says:

    @ Midfield, can’t fucking wait for these Gooners to stop bragging about UCL progression as if it’s some big accomplishment!

  16. Costas says:

    The Sociedad pick made this draw a bit trickier. We don’t have the best of track records against Spanish sides. Their style causes our midfield problems. So it will be interesting to see how Moyes addresses that. And hopefully a signing will be made. 4 days left remember. Woodward wasn’t at the draw, so obviously he’s on urgent transfer business again. :lol:

  17. Costas says:

    I have no words for Chelsea’s draw. This can’t be accidental anymore.

  18. billy991 says:

    think we are in a decent group. we should take them at home but away not sure. Good test for Moyes. We should finish top of the table in our group

  19. Wee Toms Ligaments says:

    Holy crap! UEFA got it right for once! Ribery is the best of the best. Not Messi! I think Messi’s charm has finally worn off. Bout time.

  20. Mav says:

    The draw could have been worse but don’t get it twisted, this is a banana skin.

    I predict Sociedad will run rings around our current midfield. I watch both games against Lyon, their style will cause serious problems.

  21. The Hound says:

    I actually don’t think that was a kind draw. A lot harder group than the past 2 seasons and we went out in one of them! A German and a Spanish side thrown in with Donetsk who are an experience European side. We SHOULD win the group but it doesn’t” always work out like that.

  22. Cool Goat HOT POTATOE! says:

    All we need now after the pedo winning the best player award is a christmas No1 from Gary Glitter and some half witted catholic nun from portugal to find her toast has been burnt in such a way of depicting jesus three knuckles deep in missing madelain mccan.
    only in football with respect do you tell someone off for saying nigger but hand an award to a convicted child trafficker.

  23. belfastred says:

    Awe isnt the champions league draw day great.. or as the scousers call it “Thursday”. Im as happy as i can be with that group. Take none of them for granted but in my opinion it could’ve been worse.

  24. samuel - united WE stand says:

    Matt – decline? Don’t think so. They’ve added some players, they’ve got some quality younger players like el sharawy etc. They will prove a definite threat with their experience.

  25. Proverb says:

    Yeah kind but still trickier agreed.
    Although moyes style has got something encouraging going about, we are likely to see the bullying or out passing (european) teams have been enjoying against us vanish once the right approach and right personnel is put in place.

    Spanish teams have been lucky enough to be given the freedom to pass at will and our almost at stationary midfield didn’t help proceedings.

    Chelsea could have been a sign for things to come though we dealt with quite extraordinary, we’re better in that department only short in personnel. The pressing game will work just fine in europe. We’re tough to beat this year with amazing attackers I’m confident

  26. United till I die says:

    Not a bad first test for the new manager in Europe. You can bet your life this is where Moyes will lean on SAF for advice on getting out of the group. It’s the same as every always you win your 3 home games and don’t lose away.

  27. The Red devil says:

    I always think back to our Treble winning campaign of 98/99.

    We had to play a qualifying game to get into the CL and then the Group of Death with: Barca, Bayern and (ahem) Brondby.

    Then Inter, Juve and Bayern to win the trophy. Can’t have been many tougher routes to a CL trophy than that.

    FA Cup

    Boro (Premier)
    Liverpool (Premier)
    Fulham (up and coming at the time with Keegan at the helm)
    Chelsea (Premier)
    Arsenal (Premier)
    Newcastle (Premier)

    Again, about as tough as it could have been at the time.

    We got luckier in the League Cup (Bury, Forest before Spurs knocked us out).

    All in all, I don’t think draws have been tougher for us than that season which makes the Treble all the more remarkable.

  28. nanisgranny says:

    Quietly confident i like the fact its not an easy group means we will be fully focused and send out are strongest team. B a bit worried bout sociedad this remember how athletico bilboa rang rings around us in Europa league. Still expect us to top the group with the squad we have. City should be really happy could have been so much worse for them back surprised f valance r plzen challenge

  29. nanisgranny says:

    Fucking auto correct

  30. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    Just seen our draw. FUCKING HELL, not an easy one this time. Leverkusen, Shakhtar and Sociedad. The good thing (or bad, however you want to see it) is that we are going to be tested by teams that have very mobile and high octane midfields so it should give us an accurate idea of how good our midfield really is. I really hope we get out of this on top but it certainly is tougher than what we got last year. But hey look on the bright side, we could be Arsenal LOL. Napoli and Dortmund? KILLER.

    I also see that the Shekih’s advances have finally worked. They should get out of that group with Bayern in theory. Victoria Pilzen and CSKA Moscow? fucking piss take.

    Chelsea get ANOTHER easy draw. Schalke and Steaua won’t be giving them any problems don’t think.

    Anyways, whatever happens, I am quietly confident that we can get the job done on time.

  31. orez says:

    No pushovers in CL and I am really excited. Moyes can’t get a break though, but hopefully we will not see another article “CL is rigged” I am happy that we will have some exciting games, especially interested to see Real Sociedad. I liked them from the time that the team full of journeyman and old-timers almost won the Primera. Now that was one hell of exciting championship. I like the draw.

  32. evered7 says:

    For a club which is supposedly the ‘biggest in the world’ we spend a fair amount worrying about the opponents.

    That indicates the activities we have done in the transfer market over the past few years. If we have strengthened in the right areas, we need not worry who we face. Instead we will only talk about whom to start.

    Now do we understand the need for having at least two star players for each position?

    United should be buying the best and beating the best. 2008 UCL seems a long time ago.

  33. The One says:

    Tricky draw I believe with the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Sociedad but I still think we have enough quality to go through as long as we don’t underestimate our opponents.

  34. Greek (MU)djahiddin says:

    If there are worries about these opponents, what should it be against Real, Barcelona, Bayern, Juventus, Milan etc. ? Every CL draw needs not to be taken lightly, but if we have aspirations of winning the trophy, we should expect to go through comfortably. Otherwise, it will show that we fall short of the 2 Spanish clubs and the Germans once again. Home form must improve. OT is not the fortress it used to be in European nights (1st home defeat almost after 45 years by Fenerbahce)

  35. Chris says:

    I’m pleased that we got a tough’ish draw because we always seem to cock up when we have piss easy groups. Shaktar and Leverkusen away will be a challenge and it will be interesting to see how Moyes approaches his first ‘real’ foray into Europe.


You must be logged in to post a comment.